When I launched Be Brave in 2015 I envisioned creating community, and establishing a space where readers could send in questions and share ideas. Well, I recently received an email from a collegiate athlete who not only took the time to tell me about her own rowing journey, but also ask for advice! It’s been a pleasure emailing with her and I’m excited to draw on our correspondence to introduce Be Brave’s very first “Ask Me Anything.” With that said, let’s go!
Ask Me Anything
Until very recently, I’d always assumed that my career as a rower would end after college, but I’ve been thinking more and more about a goal to race lightweight internationally, like you are doing. Do you have any words of wisdom for things I can do now, as a collegiate rower, to bring me closer to that goal? Also, as a lightweight rower, I’m always looking for nutrition advice! Lastly, I would love to hear about how you strike a balance in your life between your rowing career, writing, family/friends, etc.
Thank you so much for your time!
An Aspiring Elite
Dear Aspiring Elite
Let’s tackle these questions!
The most important thing I can share is to eat a variety of real, unprocessed food. I know that this isn’t new or earth-shattering information. But there are so many different diets out there, and I see both athletes and non-athletes following fads for no real reason that serves them. Everyone’s dietary needs are different. Without knowing how you currently eat or if you’re looking to make a change, I’d say pay attention to how you feel day-to-day (energy and mood) and start to learn what types of food and/or meals help you feel at your best. Aim to eat nutrient dense food, again with the goal of optimizing energy (and consequently performance). (If you’re interested in reading more about nutrient density, I like this article by Chris Kresser found HERE.)
In terms of lightweight rowing and making weight, I don’t know the specifics of your situation so I’ll share a few general comments about what works for me, and what I’ve seen from my peers. First, I think it’s important to let your weight fluctuate throughout the year, particularly if you’re stretched or have to “work” to make weight. Letting your weight naturally go up post season allows for a mental and physical reset, and both are important for health and the longevity of your career. I’ll sit as much as 10-12 pounds above race weight in the off season and like to train at about five pounds above race weight in season. I settled on these numbers purely by listening to my body and paying attention to personal trends with my weight. Just like with diet, there is no single right way.
Second, I’ve seen athletes either eat too little, try to cut weight too fast, or both. Training and racing demand a lot from our bodies and therefore we need to fuel them! In my opinion, it’s best to make small changes while giving your body time to adapt. This will set you up for going to the line feeling strong, confident and fueled.
In terms of striking a balance, I like to think of balance on a macro level and by looking at the year as a whole. As you know, with rowing, certain parts of the year are going to require more time and energy than others. I’ve had to learn to be OK with this, and adapt and set boundaries accordingly. So, during the spring and summer, when training and racing are the priority, I will minimize my other commitments and essentially try to keep the calendar clear. Immediately after the race season and throughout most of the fall, I pivot—I intentionally spend more time with family and friends, and do things I’d been keeping on the back burner during race season. In general, establishing balance does require attention, intention and planning. However, it’s well worth the effort because otherwise it can be easy to feel pulled in many competing directions.
Here are a few things that you can do now to help you move toward your goal:
Explore opportunities for U23s. A lot has changed since I graduated and I actually don’t know much about racing as a U23. I think your best bet here (if you’re interested in pursuing this) is to talk to your coach and see if he/she can provide some direction. If not, feel free to let me know. I’m happy to do some investigating or put you in touch with women I know who have attended U23 camps and raced at U23 Worlds.
Learn how to lift / develop good body mechanics in the gym. This might involve working with a weightlifting coach or skilled physical therapist that can teach you how to squat properly and work with a barbell. The off-season / summer months would be a great time for this! If you do it right, lifting can be an asset; the way you move in the gym should carryover to how you move in the boat. It’s also important for injury prevention. Plus, whether it’s in the gym, on the erg or in the boat, you want to be training as effectively and efficiently as possible. Prioritize proper mechanics over lifting heavy weight. It will pay dividends long-term.
Develop your skills in small boats (1x, 2x and 2-). It sounds like you’re already doing this but it is important so I wanted to point it out. Time in small boats is the best way to develop your boat feel, which will easily transfer when you get into a bigger shell.
Circle of Trust
Develop a small, strong circle of support. This can include select members of your family, friends, former or current teammates or coaches—anyone who knows you well, whose opinion you value and who has your best interest in mind. I’m bringing this up because you mentioned that you spent a lot of time worrying about rowing lightweight because everyone was encouraging you to row open. I experienced the same thing and also spent way too much time in general listening to other people’s thoughts about my career—people who didn’t know anything about me, my values, my goals, etc.
Learn to trust what’s in your heart, and only allow in feedback from the people included in your support circle. As far as everyone else, either filter their input or block out their opinions completely. I’ve noticed that with lightweight racing in particular, everyone thinks that they can have an opinion or ask you questions about your weight, what you eat, etc. They can’t. You are in charge of yourself and your health. You know what’s right for you. Be confident in that.
Lastly, have fun! Full disclosure: this type of advice used to drive me crazy when I was in high school and college. But the truth is that it’s the most important advice I can share. Collegiate rowing in particular is special and you should do everything in your power to fully engage and enjoy it. It’s the only time when you’ll get to be part of such a large and dynamic team. Aim to be a good teammate as much as you aim to individually develop and perform. Your attitude, energy and example will impact your teammates, and everyone will be better because of it.
All right, my friends, it’s great to be back in action in the New Year!
Train hard. Have fun. Be brave. Believe.
Have a question? Submit it HERE. I can’t wait to hear from you!